The Power of Advanced Medicine and Powerlifting
Joe Marksteiner knows strength.
He’s been a world-class powerlifter for nearly 40 years and won a world championship in 2013. At 65 years old and 145 pounds, this former gymnast and 22-year Air Force veteran can squat 425 pounds. In October, he and his wife, Cathy – a decorated powerlifter in her own right – were in Mongolia competing for yet another title at the World Powerlifting Championships.
But Joe’s strength isn’t limited to the raw, physical kind. Last year, he was diagnosed with a small bowel neuroendocrine tumor with metastasis to the liver, a rare disease he’ll likely contend with for the rest of his life.
His symptoms began as minor troubles – some gastrointestinal issues he controlled with diet, his skin flushing red on a regular basis.
A slew of testing by physicians in Cincinnati yielded bad news: Joe had softball and golf ball-sized neuroendocrine tumors in his liver and bowel.
“Your first reaction is, ‘Oh crap,’” Joe said. “But I knew there were treatments, there were possibilities, and while it was daunting to go into that, I didn’t feel like it was the end of the world.”
Coming to Markey
In March 2017, Joe was referred to the UK Markey Cancer Center’s Dr. Lowell Anthony, who specializes in neuroendocrine tumors and cancer. The couple was immediately impressed with how Dr. Anthony talked them through diagnosis and treatment options.
“You can’t make informed decisions if you’re not educated,” Cathy said. “Dr. Anthony not only excelled at educating us, but he did it compassionately and comfortably.”
In the past year and a half, Joe has undergone chemotherapies and procedures at Markey to shrink and/or eliminate his tumors. Treatment began with a self-injected octreotide to clear his symptoms. Then came everolimus, an oral chemotherapy. So far, he’s had two embolizations of the liver to kill the blood supply to the tumors.
“You can’t make informed decisions if you’re not educated – Dr. Anthony not only excelled at educating us, but he did it compassionately and comfortably." - Cathy Marksteiner
Last December, Markey surgical oncologist Dr. Michael Cavnar performed surgery to resect the root of Joe’s problems – a 1.5 centimeter tumor on his small intestine. Additionally, 14 lymph nodes, two of which were cancerous, were removed as were three feet of his small intestine and his gallbladder.
For six weeks following this surgery, Joe was given strict orders to lift no more than five pounds at a time.
Once he was cleared for more strenuous exercise, Joe was eager to get back in the groove. He began doing push-ups at home during TV commercial breaks, sometimes doing 100 an hour.
Just six months later, he and Cathy competed in USA Powerlifting Open Nationals, earning their bids for Mongolia. Joe credits his quick recovery to his overall healthy lifestyle, a sentiment Cavnar echoes.
Though he’s not quite back to full capacity, Joe said he’s feeling good about his progress. “You know, I’m not 100 percent yet,” Joe said. “There have been some distractions and detours, but for the most part I’m back on track from before my diagnosis.”
Joe will undergo another embolization to further shrink the metastatic tumors in his liver. He hopes to be able to stop taking his oral chemotherapy someday, although he will need to continue monthly octreotide injections for the rest of his life.
“Dr. Cavnar and Dr. Anthony are very clear – we’re probably not going to have ‘cure’ in our vocabulary, but ‘control’ is our big ‘C’ word,” Cathy said. “Joe has been able to return to doing something that allows him quality of life. He was a prior world champion, so to be able to return to the world competition stage again is like, ‘I can live with this.’”